07/11/2001 11:00PM

Pic a Lil cuts back to six furlongs


SALEM, N.H. - Pic a Lil, last year's champion New England mare, is a strong favorite to win Saturday's $25,000 Rockingham Distaff Handicap, her first local start of the season.

The six-furlong Distaff was originally scheduled for July 1, but a sudden and intense thunderstorm forced the cancellation of the stakes and one other race on the program. Pic a Lil was the strong morning line favorite that day, but trainer George Handy scratched her before the card began. She comes back Saturday to meet the same five older fillies and mares that were entered that day, along with five additional members for a field of 11.

Pic a Lil, a 5-year-old daughter of Loach, has won three of her six starts this year, including the Florida Breeders' Distaff Stakes and the Hibiscus, both at 1 1/16 miles. She flashed her good speed when she scored a near three-length win in an allowance at Gulfstream in her first outing of the year. She set the pace in that seven-furlong race and drew out through the stretch.

Pic a Lil has been sharpening her speed in the mornings and comes into the Distaff off a half-mile work in 47.40 seconds, easily the fastest of the day for that distance.

Pic a Lil's last race was a month ago in the Monmouth Beach at Monmouth Park. She came from off the pace with a bid on the final turn of the mile-and-70-yard race but she flattened out in the stretch and finished fourth. Josiah Hampshire Jr. gets the call aboard Pic a Lil, the 121-pound topweight.

There's no shortage of speed in the Distaff. Besides Pic a Lil, there's Lucky Week, who has scored five of her eight career wins this year. Most recently, she romped over conditioned allowance company in her first start of the meet. Another speed horse is Saga Lady, who two races back romped over three-other-than allowance company.

It would seem the abundance of speed would set things up nicely for the closers, and Lucky Paws looks to be in the best spot to take advantage. The 6-year-old Lucky Paws came from well off the pace when she scored over top allowance company in her lone start of the year at Suffolk Downs. She's perfect after three starts at the Rock and her racing record nearly matches Pic a Lil's.